Nonprofit reaches milestone of 600,000 lbs. of trash removed as volunteers collected 25,397 lbs. of trash from waterways during Tennessee River Month

There’s now nearly 13 tons less trash on the shorelines of local waterways thanks to 107 volunteers who came out to participate in river cleanups to celebrate October’s ‘Keep the Tennessee River Watershed Beautiful Month presented by TVA.’

October’s volunteers also helped Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTNRB) cruise right past its milestone of 600,000 lbs. (or 300 tons) of trash removed from the Tennessee River watershed since it became a nonprofit. A Boeing 747, one of the world’s largest planes, weighs 300 tons to give a physical perspective of the weight of trash removed from the Tennessee River watershed. For context of the group’s momentum: KTNRB had removed 47,756 lbs. of trash before putting its first boat in the water in 2019.

“We’ve come such a long way in a short window of time, and it’s all thanks to the good people who volunteer their time to protect their waterways by cleaning trash that wasn’t even theirs,” said Kathleen Gibi, KTNRB Executive Director. “This year has been full of new records broken, and the records belong to those thousands of volunteers who have made a commitment to this precious river system of ours.”

In the 2023 calendar year, KTNRB is now setting a new record with every pound collected. So far this year, 205,603 lbs. of trash have been removed from the Tennessee River watershed by 959 volunteers.

Gibi said that the cleanup series during October’s celebrations was a perfect example of volunteers from all walks of life, with the series cleanups taking place within rural settings like the Powell River up in New Tazewell, Tenn., to more industrial settings like Ingalls Harbor in Decatur, Ala.

The cleanup series swept through three states and nine cities with just five events:

Oct.14   New Tazewell, Tenn. Powell River 6,700 lbs.   28 volunteers

Oct. 15   Bean Station, Tenn. Cherokee Lake 4,850 lbs.   18 volunteers

Oct. 19   Harrison, Tenn. Chickamauga Lake 4,847 lbs.   20 volunteers

Oct. 28   Iuka, MS/Counce, TN/Waterloo, AL Pickwick Lake 4,983 lbs.   25 volunteers

Oct. 29   Decatur, AL Wheeler Lake 4,017 lbs.   16 volunteers

TOTAL 25,397 lbs. 107 volunteers


The 6th annual river cleanup series was only part of the celebration. ‘Keep the Tennessee River Watershed Beautiful Month’ was officially proclaimed by governors of the four states touched by the Tennessee River, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear as well as Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Paris, Tenn. Mayor Kathy Ray.

In addition to TVA’s ongoing sponsorship of the cleanup series, the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation’s Nobody Trashes Tennessee litter prevention campaign and Keep Tennessee Beautiful have consistently funded ‘Keep the Tennessee River Watershed Beautiful Month’ since it launched in 2018.

This year’s series consisted of two cleanups held in collaboration with the national nonprofit Living Lands & Waters, who brought three of their 30-foot work boats, and Allegheny CleanWays who brought their 30-foot work boat to supplement KTNRB’s two work boats.

Gibi said that many local partners made the series a success, including:

Powell River, Tenn.: Bunch Hollow Campground, The Norris Lake Project, and Allegheny CleanWays

Bean Station, Tenn.: Lakeside Marina, Cherokee Lake Users Association, Care N.E.T., Keep Morristown Hamblen Beautiful, and Allegheny CleanWays

Harrison, Tenn.: Harrison Bay State Park, Capital Waste Services of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee Dept. of Transportation Region 2
Counce, TN/Iuka, MS/Waterloo, AL: Grand Harbor Marina, Hardin County Solid Waste, Keep Mississippi Beautiful, Pickwick Parrot Heads, Caterpillar-Reman, Clayton Homes-Savannah, Stryker-MS, Women Who Love Nature – West TN, Living Lands & Waters

Decatur, AL: Decatur Morgan County Tourism, Decatur Parks & Recreation, TVA, Living Lands & Waters

Beyond the cleanup series’ impressive numbers, Gibi said they discovered a cove on Chickamauga Lake that they had cleaned four years prior that had once had chronic litter and was now virtually spotless . She attributed it to a cultural shift since the legacy litter had been removed and ongoing cleanup efforts by their Adopt a River Mile participants as well as river cleanup efforts such as the annual Tennessee River Rescue put on by Waterways.

“That was so encouraging to see at our Chickamauga Lake cleanup this year and we hope to start having that experience more often,” said Gibi. “We’d love to see such a reduction in litter that we work ourselves out of the business of larger river cleanup efforts—and with signs like we saw on Chickamauga Lake, it seems we’re starting to head in that direction!”

For information on Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful’s ongoing programs or to view their river cleanup schedule, visit

Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful is the 1st Keep America Beautiful affiliate in the nation to focus solely on a river. The 501c3 nonprofit aims to rally communities along the river and its tributaries to preserve, improve, and protect the river for generations to come. Since forming in 2016, approximately 4,000 volunteers have helped the organization to remove 620,696 lbs. of trash along the 652-mile Tennessee River and its tributaries. Additionally, over 200 river miles have been adopted on the Tennessee River watershed, with river mile adoptees reporting over 100,000 lbs. of trash removed on their own.